Swan 15

Kyoko Ariyoshi – CMX – 2010 – 21 volumes

Admittedly, I liked the last volume better because of the Bolero scene, but I think Swan will be hard-pressed to ever top that scene for me in terms of emotional intensity.  It does have a crack at it, and nearly succeeds, when Leon and Masumi dance together at the beginning of this volume after Masumi figures out what she’d been missing all this time.

Now, in terms of artwork, I think this volume is probably the best yet.  Visually, that dance at the beginning of the book has far surprassed anything that’s come before.  There’s just nothing like this series for portraying movement and… well, dance, and the combination of two souls, if you want to get technical.  Of course, a big part of my awe of every volume probably has something to do with the fact I haven’t laid eyes on the older volumes in at least eight months, so I may forget what the regular stuff looks like.  That’s just in terms of the series itself, though.  In general, I think there is nothing that really surpasses Swan art-wise.

After that first dance, a good portion of the rest of the book is taken up with matters of the heart, something this series doesn’t dwell on too much, surprisingly.  Masumi finds herself caught between Leon, her partner who will dance with no one but her, and Luci, the ladies man that all the other dancers are a little in love with.  Leon is pretty open about his feelings for Masumi, but this puts Masumi in an awkward spot.  She doesn’t know how to act around Luci, she doesn’t know how she feels about him herself, and she doesn’t know what she should feel for Leon.  Leon seems devoted to her in dance, but cold otherwise.  What are his feelings?

In Swan, romance will of course be way over-the-top and a little ridiculous, but I wouldn’t have it any other way.  Some of the scenes are so corny both visually and emotionally they made me laugh, but in the context of the story, I think it would be strange if it happened any other way.

And if I haven’t said this enough… boy is it pretty.  I’m just flipping through it right now, and even the parts where there is no dance, the parts where Masumi is stressing out emotionally, or where Luci is coming on strong… even those parts are just amazing.  Wow.  It’s been a couple years since I picked this up, and I just cannot get over how pretty it is.

This series is easy to pick up because it’s not even really a matter of taste for the story, I think.  As long as you’re okay with through-the-roof melodrama, I think the unusual ballet premise and the excellent art is enough to keep most people interested.  And the story does hook you after awhile, regardless of how you feel about melodrama.  Just try to stop when you’re going through all these competitions.

Again, wow.


Swan 14

While I favor From Eroica With Love more, the 10-month gap between this volume and the one before it is more keenly felt in Swan, which is a very serious story with an ongoing plot.  I had a hard time recalling who the characters were and what was going on (aside from a general “Masumi is having trouble with modern ballet” sense), but I got the hang of it after about 30 or so pages.  I’ll probably start from the beginning and re-read the series before volume 15 comes out just because it’s a gorgeous series and really deserves my full attention with each volume.

The benefit to the release gap is that I totally forgot just how breathtaking amazing this series can be, and the volume may have made more of an impact because of it.  To be fair, the volume opens with jaw-dropping incredible composition that goes on for the first several pages, which was the luck of the draw, but what a way to be grabbed by the series again.

So, yeah, Masumi is having problems with modern ballet, and the problems come to a head here when the coreographer she is studying under tells her she will have to audition for her lead role with Leonhardt against Margie, a modern ballet prodigy.  I had mostly forgotten about the trinity of Leo, Luci, and Ed, the three friends of modern ballet.  Luci plays the most prominent role in this volume aside from Masumi, and provides her with emotional support that Leonhardt seems unable to give.

Luci does two things that make Swan better than any other manga.  The first is that he explains to Masumi that a partnership between dancers is better if you fall in love with your partner, male or female.  He explains that he loves each of his partners, and that modern ballet is all about sexual attraction and human sensuality, something that classic ballet hides under costumes.  The way he explains it was pretty erotic, in an unattached way, and I’m not going to do the conversation any justice if I explain it more than that.

The second thing he does is dance Bolero.  I nearly teared up during this sequence, because not only is it beautiful art-wise, but the emotional impact generated between the art and the selected text, describing the dance itself and its effect on Masumi, it… it makes you really feel like you are witnessing something special.  Luci starts by explaining a famous performance of Bolero, and how it would be performed on a dark stage with a single male dancer on a round table with a dozen female dancers keeping the rhythm around him.  He describes specific body movements at the beginning of the song.  And then he performs it, in a dark and decrepit studio at the top of a building in New York.  Masumi’s reactions describe his body movements, the rhythm of the song, and the incredible effect that even his sweating lends to the dance.

There is no action scene that compares to it.

And that’s why Swan is the best manga ever.  The end.


Swan 13

There is definitely more plot in this volume than usual, mostly due to Masumi’s move to New York City and totally being uprooted from everything she’s known.  She met friendly faces when she got to Russia, if I remember right, but her reception in New York is much colder.  It’s nicely done, because this of course is played for MAXIMUM DRAMA.

I’m never sure of Masumi’s romantic interests.  I was all ready to pair her up with Aoi, and I don’t much like Leonard, but I can’t tell if things are moving more towards them just being dance partners or what.  Maybe both.  It’s hard to tell in this series, which is part of what I love about it.

It enters a new era, where modern dance is discussed and performed.  I was missing the well-coreographed dance sequences from the previous competition volumes, but there were still a handful of dancing sequences while the characters explained modern dance to Masumi.  Masumi can’t quite wrap her brain around it, and the American coreographer is of course harsh with her.  Drama drama drama, as you can imagine, and only in ways that Swan can pull it off.  What would a volume be without at least one character bursting into tears at least once?

I love it.  The art is still gorgeous, the characters are still passionate, and this series is just fantastic.


Swan 12

Whew.  The Ballet Competition is finally over.  On one hand, I’m glad we can move on to other things.  On the other hand, the only real dance sequence in this volume was the last dance of the competition, Les Sylphides, which kind of bummed me out.  I was surprised by the outcome, actually.  Not that surprised, but Masumi did quite well for herself, I must say.

Since we’ve had dance after dance after dance for several volumes now, this volume of plot development was long overdue.  Lots of character relationships were worked on, including Masumi and Aoi, Kyogoku and… the other male Japanese dancer, and the tying off of loose ends between Masumi and said other dancer.  I like Aoi a lot.  I’m a little sad he’ll be leaving the story for what I suspect will be quite awhile.   We get to find out the connection between Masumi’s mother and the famous Russian dancer, and we also get the beginnings of a working relationship between Masumi and Leonard, the male winner from the competition.  He’s really a jerk, so I’m not looking forward to him being swapped out for some of the gentler characters.  Masumi’s sensei looks as if he’ll be leaving the story for awhile too, which is also kind of a bummer since he seems to do Masumi a lot of good and there’s always weird hints about the two of them.  Not anything tangible, mind you, but some of the interaction is quite dated and weirdly intimate to me.

Aside from character interaction, Masumi is forced into a decision about what she wants to do next.  She is personally invited to Russia to be trained with the Bolshoi ballet, and she’s also officially invited to America to perform a ballet in New York.  The decision is unsurprisingly made more dramatic by hinting at a flaw that Masumi has that will be healed in one place and hurt in another.

Drama! Drama! Drama!  Beautiful 70s drama!  Gotta love it.  It also felt like forever since the last time I read this series, so I’m glad to see that the next volume will be around in May.


Swan 11

I don’t usually have much to say about this series because… well, it’s about dance, and the dance and artwork are usually tied together so well that you need to see it in order to know how good the volume was.  All the volumes are good since this is a quality unique to Swan, and I like that very much.

There’s an arrogant male dancer who makes his prescence known in this volume, and he seems to be the Lilliana of male ballet.  All the girls who dance with him say he’s a genius, and he doesn’t even come to practice with his partners before their rounds are judged.

Masumi actually does quite well in the competition in this volume.  I’m excited to see how things turn out next time.


Swan 10

This book has just about as much drama and suspense as these pages can contain.  Masumi and Aoi give a breathtaking performance.  Then they’re almost thrown out of the contest.  Then Masumi has to go up against Larissa.  Then… 32 DOUBLES?  IN A ROW?

There.  That’s about as much comment as I can squeeze out of this volume.  We’re still in the middle of the competition, though I suspect at least two more volumes will make it in before we see the winners.  We still get lots of tears, lots of passion, and lots of dancing.  We learn about ballet.  And it’s still got the most georgeous art with the best page composition that I’ve ever seen.  It’s the same every volume, but it draws you in every single time, too.

It’s just great.  I read this back to back with Ueki, and I regretted reading such good ones so close together and not cramming the likes of, hm, Pichi Pichi Pitch 5 or something between them.


Swan 9

So my roommate’s graduating this weekend and his parents are coming over, so I’ve been cleaning and prepping and not had much time for the internet.  I have been reading manga though, and so I don’t forget what I need to write about, I need Dragonball 20 & 21, Doing Time, RG Veda 5, Scary Book 3, and Getbackers 14.

This still isn’t the newest volume of Swan, since 10 just came out, but this series is so hard to get, I’ll take it.  The International Contest is still going, and as expected, there is plenty of drama.  Lots of people get cut, though mostly not people we know.  Not surprisingly, most of the cuts have to do with Lilliana and performing after her.  Everyone is so taken by her “dead swan” that they just declare the winner right there.

Masumi botches hers a bit and then recovers, and there’s still lots of romantic drama going on.  Even with Lilliana performing, she also swears that she’ll win the contest to her teacher.

There is lots of tears and nothing but totally serious moments throughout.  If you’re head doesn’t explode from drama overload, then you are a stronger person than I.  Of course, I read this series for its PASSION and drama et al, because I think it’s fantastic, so I’m not saying the drama is a bad thing.


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